Furniture, accessories go all a-glitter

The Baltimore Sun

The pale-green lamp on the shelves at West Elm is made of common clay but looks as if it's carved, polished jade. At another Los Angeles high-end furniture store, Kartell, Dutch designer Marcel Wanders' plastic stone stools sparkle like chunks of topaz and citrine. And Fendi Casa's crystal chair looks like a cushion-cut diamond.

These days, a residence described as a jewel box may actually look like one. Furniture and accessories resembling gemstones on steroids are beginning to bring a little bling into the home.

"There are two types of people in this world," says San Francisco interior designer Gary Hutton. "People who like sparkly things. And people who won't admit they do."

Hutton launched Facet, a collection of $5,500 bronze tables inlaid with Swarovski crystals, seven years ago. He calls the new generation of gem-inspired furniture a natural fusion between the worlds of fashion and home furnishings -- "jewelry for the home."

"Pop-culture celebrities with gold teeth and wearing big diamond jewelry have been bombarding us with bling for a number of years," Hutton says. "It only seems logical that it's going to emerge in the home-furnishings industry."

If recent trade shows are any indication, designers around the globe are experimenting with geometric shapes that look like super-sized stones. The Danish firm Fritz Hansen has just launched the Space chair, with upholstered cushions that look like a giant pale-sapphire ring when viewed from above. Valvomo, a Finnish firm, has built prototypes of Radian, a beanbag chair covered in a fabric embossed with contiguous hexagons.

"Usually beanbag seats look like actual beanbags," Valvomo designer Vesa Hinkola says. "The faceted surface gives the seat a more sculptural appearance, and the shape changes every time you sit on the seat or move it somewhere."

In Austria, the design partnership of Buchegger, Denoth, Feichtner has created Axiome, an entire collection of gemlike household products, including a leather sofa and lounge chair, lighting fixtures, crystal tableware and silver cutlery.

"Plain surfaces reflect light in just one direction," designer Thomas Feichtner says. "The reason why diamonds sparkle is that they have facets. Our objects play with light and shadow; their shapes give an impression of order, symmetry and logic."

Look no further than Anthropologie stores and their faceted ceramic pitchers to see how the trend is filtering down to the mass market. Matt Carr of Toronto designed an inexpensive black ottoman called Cado for Umbra that looks like a chiseled chunk of hematite. He says the sharp new silhouette of furniture is a rebellion against "the blob design aesthetic" that has been popular for the past few years.

"People are looking for forms that are more precise and refined," Carr says. "They want surfaces that have a reason, whether it be for form or for function. These geometric forms have a great presence in a room, adding a feeling of value and longevity much like a cut diamond."

They add something else too: glamour. No matter the setting, faceted forms can bring a playful sense of luxury to a room. They fit minimalist interiors. They add a pop-art vibe to mid-century modern homes. They also work in spaces defined by natural materials, such as slab-wood tables, rock-paved surfaces and decorative geodes and mineral specimens. In the Hollywood Regency decor schemes, the furnishings are visual shorthand for prosperity.

"The products we design cost a small fortune, for sure," says Feichtner, whose angular, leather-covered FX10 lounge chair retails for about $5,200. "But if they are status symbols, it's about good taste, not monetary value."

New advances in design, materials and manufacturing have made some of these designs surprisingly affordable and versatile. Umbra's two-piece, leather-clad Cado, which works as a footrest, seat, storage unit or occasional table, is $440.

Wanders' stone stool takes advantage of modern polycarbonate rotomolding techniques to create a lightweight and weather-resistant piece that can be used indoors and out. It's available in several colors at $220 each, and it often sells in pairs, Kartell salesman Travis Munson says.

"People seem to like them as bedside tables and on patios and pool decks to reflect sunlight and water," he says.

Interior designer Hutton praises the Wanders design for its transparency.

"Furniture that you can see through takes up less visual space in a room," he says. "You can put it in front of a window and it will glow but still let you see the scenery, and in darker areas it makes the most use of available light."

Inspiration for jewel-shaped products can be traced to sources as diverse as Japanese origami, Frank Lloyd Wright's bevel-edged hexagonal furniture and Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes. Like many of these classics, the new designs reduce the weight of objects while increasing their structural integrity.

"Geometric and gemlike forms are incredibly strong," Carr says. "A 200-pound person can jump up and down on the Cado without denting it." By shearing off the corners of a cube at a 45-degree angle, Carr's design also makes the Cado lighter and more portable.

Such advantages have long informed the work of California architect and furniture designer Gregg Fleishman, who uses faceted forms for plastic lighting pendants and plywood play structures for kids.

"Jewels certainly represent wealth and success," he says. When oriented in different ways, the geometry of crystalline forms also can provide "a new and more natural look and feel to the structure of our buildings."

Fleishman sees a future in which the crystal-shaped jewel-box home is as green as an emerald -- less a reflection of status than a statement of architectural efficiency and inner peace.

"With the uncertain state of society today, a focus on geometry in the home helps us feel closer to the natural order of things," Fleishman says. "It elevates the spirit as well, because the harmonious forms that emerge from nature are so pleasing."

David A. Keeps writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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